Headphones Buddha ‘offends millions’

Headphones Buddha ‘offends millions’

New Zealander Philip Blackwood, 32,below, is currently languishing in prison in Myanmar, formerly Burma, after he was  accused of “insulting religion” by posting a psychedelic image of the Buddha wearing headphones on Facebook to advertise his V Gastro Bar.


Despite removing the image and replacing it with a statement apologizing for “embarrassing ignorance,” Blackwood was arrested last month along with nightspot owner Tun Thurein, 40, and co-worker Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26.

The V Gastro Bar was shut just two weeks after its launch in an upscale Yangon neighborhood.

Huffed Facebook user Htet Naing Win:

This is insulting Myanmar, Buddhism and 500 millions Buddhists around the globe.

The case comes amid a surge in Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar – which emerged in 2011 from half a century of military rule and global isolation. A powerful group of monks who fear Buddhist culture in Myanmar is under threat has emerged and is promoting restrictive and controversial laws aimed at “the protection of race and religion”.

Blackwood is being held in Myanmar’s notorious Insein prison where he is potentially facing a four-year jail term. Lawyers predict the trial will stretch for months.

The case has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It adds to concerns that Myanmar’s nominally civilian government is backsliding on rights reforms. It also illustrates the increasingly powerful influence on law and politics of the hardline nationalist monks.

Violence relating to a rise in religious tensions has claimed the lives of more than 240 people, mainly Muslims, in Myanmar since 2012 and actions deemed to offend Buddhist sensitivity are flashpoints.

As telecommunications in the developing country expand, social media is providing an increasingly powerful platform for those intent on promoting intolerance.

In July, Myanmar government’s revealed it had been in contact with Facebook representatives seeking advice on curbing “online hate-speech” amid fears it had fueled religious violence in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay earlier that month.

So sensitive are religious issues in Myanmar just now that Blackwood was initially unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him. Riot police had been drafted in for the trio’s court appearances as supporters of the Buddhist nationalist 969 movement gathered outside.

The lawyer who eventually agreed to take on the New Zealander’s case, Mya Thway has said he had since received anonymous messages on Facebook, including one threatening to:

Cut him to pieces and burn him.

While the psychedelic Buddha image, or ones like it, are a familiar enough sight adorning T-shirts in the tourist areas of neighbouring Thailand, the insensitivity of using a sacred symbol to promote a bar in Myanmar has been widely recognized within the country. But outside Myanmar, many have reacted with surprise to the degree of anger the case has provoked.

Said Matthew Walton, Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in modern Burmese studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford:

It can be difficult to make sense of Burmese Buddhist reactions to this case, which many people perceive as over-reactions.

But Walton went on to describe the use of the image as:

Both a bad business move and a culturally insensitive advertising effort that was at a minimum disrespectful to local Buddhists’ tradition, and in the context of an emboldened Buddhist nationalist movement, an incredibly stupid and damaging act.

Blackwood’s case is believed to be a first in terms of a Westerner facing legal action relating to current religious sensitivities, but according to Walton it remains unclear whether the case heralds a wider rise in intolerance towards perceived Western threats to Buddhism.

He added:

I do want to emphasize that I personally think an extended prison term would be excessive, but I also imagine that there’s an interest in making an example of the defendants, so as to establish how seriously the Myanmar government will take insults to Buddhism.

David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Myanmar, described the case as “very disturbing.” He cited it as part of an:

Escalation in a pattern of rising Burmese and Buddhist ultra-nationalism, anti-Muslim fervor, and creeping xenophobia.

The main target of the Buddhist nationalist movement has been the country’s Muslims, who make up about five percent of its 53 million people.

Blackwood has pleaded not guilty to two charges relating to insulting religion, and a third charge of disobeying an order issued by a public servant. The father of a 4-month-old child insists he did not mean to offend or insult anyone but remains behind bars.

Blackwood told the court:

I believe the law says the act must be deliberate, require malice with intent to offend. I have said a number of times, there was no intent.

Concern over incitement to violence via social media, have led to the launch of a movement aimed at addressing the issue. The Flower Speech campaign — or “Panzagar” in Burmese — was started by Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and activist who was imprisoned between 2008 and 2012 for his online writings about the country’s then-military rulers.

The organization aims to promote responsible use of social media, while upholding the principles of free speech, long oppressed in Myanmar.

Nay Phone Latt, who featured on TIME’s list of the world’s most influential people in 2010, said he didn’t believe Blackwood and his co-defendants should be jailed, but added that he didn’t agree with their Facebook post.

It is difficult to stand on their side. Every religion has to respect others if we want to stay together peacefully. I am a Buddhist and liberal thinking, but I don’t like that kind of thing – it’s wrong to use an image of the Buddha in that way.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

26 responses to “Headphones Buddha ‘offends millions’”

  1. L.Long says:

    It is nice to know that buddaschite has become a religion of BS like all the others. Its getting harder for agnostics to say how nice buddaschite is. It is just another BS religion forcing others to give them respect thru the laws as their deity is just as powerful as all the others.

  2. dennis says:

    @L.Long how depressing you had to write that even budda is lost as a pillar for humanism.
    back in the late 60′ I believe I saw this exact picture in an advertisement for head phones to the enlighten ones.

  3. barriejohn says:

    Yes, we used to hold the eastern philosophies in high regard, but we were duped – they display all the characteristics of our home-grown ideologies. Perhaps it’s just down to human nature.

  4. Laura Roberts says:

    Guess now we have to add Buddha to the list of images we need to put out there, in addition to Draw Mo Day. I think it’s the duty of all who value free speech to respond to these farcical over-reactions by plastering whatever these twits find “offensive” all over the f–king internet (and elsewhere). You bitch about low-volume petty BS? We ramp up the volume ten-fold.

  5. barriejohn says:

    Dennis: No wonder – how about this little lot?

    Laura: Please repost!

  6. Angela_K says:

    I seem to recall Buddhism is popular with pap-star and actor types who opine that Buddhism is a gentle, benign religion.

  7. AgentCormac says:

    Somewhere out there are legions of religiots constantly trawling the internet looking for something – anything – to be offended by. It’s pathetic and would be laughable were it not for the fact that their cries of anguish are often capable of sending people like Philip Blackwood to a cell in some god-foresaken, hell-hole of a prison. (Please excuse the religious references!)

  8. barriejohn says:

    Angela: And who can forget the Maharishi Yogi ? His personal fortune and property empire were worth billions. Oh, for the simple life – OMMM!

  9. AgentCormac says:

    New information has emerged. Now they’ll probably want to arrest all Dudeists in Myanmar too. The following picture really ties this article together.

  10. barriejohn says:


    The page you requested cannot be displayed at the moment. It may be temporarily unavailable, the link you clicked on may have expired, or you may not have permission to view this page.

    That was quick!

  11. Paul Cook says:

    Bhuddism is not a religion. It is a way of life.
    To treat it as a religion is contemptible.
    What about all the bhudda bars – and the sales of their (chill out) music CD’s. It is just plainly mindless.
    Funny – one of the first bhudda bars I saw was in Dubai.
    You couldn’t make it up.
    Burma has an ethnic problem now separated by one religion islam and a way of life Bhuddism. The Chinese who have the same problem with the Islamic uighirs have of course fanned the flames of this.

  12. L.Long says:

    Years ago I was into the philosophy of Zen Buddhism and was impressed with it overall teachings, That slowly faded over time and accelerated into nothing with the increased religiosity of the followers. And I still agree with most of the Buddhism of the original sources. Its becoming like xtians would be surprised by jesus’ teachings if they ever really read them, and the same can be said for the Buddhists.

  13. JohnMWhite says:

    …in the context of an emboldened Buddhist nationalist movement, an incredibly stupid and damaging act.

    Yeah, you stupid idiot, how stupid could you be, stupidly being stupid by posting a picture in a place full of people who want to burn and cut you for it?

    Two sides to every story, obviously he’s just as guilty as the people who want him dead…

    Suddenly my face and palm both hurt.

  14. jay says:

    Wonder what they’d think of the Buddha-cat statue my wife has in her garden….

  15. Trevor Blake says:

    In a tradition seveal thousand years old I am offended by people who counter free speech with prison instead of more free speech. I’m not only offended I’m deeply offended. And my beliefs are sincere. So please tell me who I get to complain to so I can have my way.

    In the mean time I offer a laugh and a richly marbled wad of phlegm for Buddha, Christ, Moses, Mohammed and every other imaginary playmate used to justify the actions of scolds and bullies.

  16. Maggie says:

    Buddhism was lost when it moved from being a philosophy to being a religion, for tax relief purposes.

  17. Newspaniard says:

    Any movement that fights back against islam can’t be all bad.

  18. chrsbol says:

    When entering Bangkok from the airport there is (or was) a huge poster that reads something like ‘Don’t buy statutes of Buddha as it’s insulting’. Needless to say the place is f…ing full of them. There’s also a sign at the airport that says ‘No Fake Goods to be brought in’. Unbelievable.

  19. AgentCormac says:

    You’re out of your element, barriejohn. It opens fine in my browser. But here’s a different link to the same image, just in case.

  20. Lon says:

    Fuck buddha and buddhism! The picture is an insult to headphones.

  21. barriejohn says:

    AgentCormac: I thought that they didn’t want me to see it!

  22. barriejohn says:

    BTW There is widespread speculation that the Dalai Lama will be appearing at Glastonbury this year. Says a lot about Eavis and those superannuated rockers, doesn’t it?

  23. Newspaniard says:

    I suspect that the “millions” offended are actually a couple of dozen who make being offended, a profession.

  24. Cali Ron says:

    Buddhism always qualified as a religion to me, but now they seem to be competing with the christians and muslims for supremacy on the crazy train. Newspaniard: I’m not so sure that fighting against islam is enough to make buddhism any better than islam. Lesser of 2 evils maybe, but they are all bad for society and mankind. Religion is the opiate of the people. And the chains of the people. And the whip on the people. New Buddhist chant: OMMMMMM gonna kill the next person who insults my religion!

  25. PeteSykes says:

    “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.” – Bjork

  26. Paul Cook says:

    Peter Sykes
    Even the book of bhuddah has a section for how slaves should behave.